(Orange, Texas)

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October 9, 2012

Gravel pits could help LCRA with water supply

GARWOOD, Texas —  

A pair of old gravel pits on the fringes of this South Texas town may spell the future of water supplies in the Colorado River basin.

Here, in the midst of rice country, the Lower Colorado River Authority is six months into a project to figure out whether it can call on its vast network of canals, which stem like capillaries from the river, to store water in the lower part of the basin.

After a record drought, one that frequently pit Austin-area residents against downstream farmers over increasingly precious water, the LCRA is trying to come up with new ways to capture water collecting downriver.

Adjacent to the canals, originally built to flood rice paddies in the Garwood area, the land is pockmarked with gravel pits. In April, the LCRA inundated two of these pits, depleted decades ago, with more than 2,000 acre-feet of water. An acre-foot roughly equals the amount of water three Austin households use each year.

The ongoing pit project, which covers about 150 acres, is a prelude to a much more ambitious plan to build as many as three reservoirs in the lower basin, each of which could store roughly 20,000 acre-feet of water. The reservoirs, which would capture rainwater that falls south of the Highland Lakes, could alleviate the strain of serving farmers downstream of lakes Travis and Buchanan, Central Texas' major reservoirs.

"It's about avoiding having to release stored water by using existing infrastructure," said Kyle Jensen, executive manager of external affairs at the LCRA.

The LCRA reports that this year alone, one in which releases for rice farmers were heavily curtailed, about 800,000 acre-feet of water has flowed over the Bay City dam on the Colorado River near the Gulf Coast.

Much of that is due to rainfall below the series of dams that form the Highland Lakes.

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